Back in 2014, a new animated Star Wars series launched on Disney XD. Coming off from the Clone Wars series Star Wars Rebels tells a new story five years prior to the events of Star Wars: A New Hope when the Rebellion was in its infancy and beginning to form into the Rebel Alliance. At the beginning of the series there are rebel cells scattered throughout the galaxy but with the efforts of Hera Syndulla and her crew they teamed up with the larger rebellion forces to stop the Empire and restore hope and freedom to the galaxy.
Warning: Spoilers to Follow
Star Wars Rebels Creators
The series co-created by a veteran of the Clone Wars, Dave Filoni, began as a story about Ezra Bridger and the crew of the Ghost. As the series progressed it became more about the actual fight to stop the Empire on a galactic scale and the larger rebellion. It will always be about the Ghost crew and a coming of age story of Ezra Bridger but to keep the series alive it must include everyone including some of our heroes from the Clone Wars.
In this article, I am going to look at the best and worst parts of Rebels as a TV series and as a story in the Star Wars Universe. The show Rebels is an animated series developed primarily for kids but I found that as an adult it is just as enjoyable to watch for the stories and the characters.
Looking beyond the series as just a cartoon we find a story with a cast of characters that bring the show together. Not all of this works well and some are just material thrown in to make an episode. However, going through the seasons and individual episodes I have found the best parts of Rebels outweigh the worst parts. Let’s now delve into the heart of the show and look at the various parts that make this a great addition to the Star Wars universe.
What Makes Star Wars: Rebels Work
As far as the series goes the story development was a highlight of the series. It is the nice paced progression of the story that makes Rebels a show that I come back to every week. There are also the characters but I will get to them later. In season one, we are introduced to Ezra Bridger and the crew of the Ghost; Kanan Jarrus, Hera Syndulla, Zeb Orrelios, Sabine Wren, and Chopper. A majority of the season occurred on Lothal and dealt with gathering supplies and intel while fighting off the Empire. We are also introduced to the main protagonists the Grand Inquisitor and Agent Kallus. By season two we get more of a story surrounding the larger rebellion and bringing in new allies like Captain Rex from the Clone Wars and Ahsoka Tano.
There was also a development of the Jedi and Force aspect of the story. At this point, Kanan has accepted his role in training Ezra to become a Jedi and not only use the Force but understand it. Kanan himself was only a padawan when Order 66 was issued and after losing his master escaped to eventually find Hera and join her rebellion. He has to find his own path and learn with a limited knowledge base. This story is about a journey they both are taking, which works well. In addition, by season two their connection to the Force and Jedi identity are no longer secret and the Empire is hunting them down by the Inquisitors. Once the Grand Inquisitor was out of the way two new Inquisitors picked up the hunt along with Darth Vader.
For our rebels, the Imperials are the main enemies and they are relentless in their pursuit. Fortunately, thanks to unforeseen acts by our heroes some Imperials are switching over to their cause. Throughout season one and two Agent Kallus was the Imperial put in charge of finding the Rebels but after Zeb helps him out on the ice moon of Geonosis in “The Honorable Ones” he went on in season three to become a Fulcrum. At the end of that episode, Kallus is shown in his bunk reflecting and he comes back to assist Sabine in extracting Wedge Antilles. I do like how the writers have us thinking whether or not Kallus is to be trusted, if he really does change, and will we continue to see him help the rebels from the inside.
Some other great aspects of the Rebels show are the way the writers can tie in story arcs and close out plots. Seasons two and three demonstrate this well with their big plots. In season two we have Ahsoka Tano returning as an older more experienced version then we last left her in the Clone Wars. She was revealed at the end of season one to be Fulcrum and has been giving intel to individual rebel cells. Her appearance changed the path of our two Jedi Kanan and Ezra. With her help and knowledge, they defeated three Inquisitors on Malachor, though more are said to exist, and started a journey to discover the secret to destroying the Sith.
There was a lot of emotion written into Ahsoka’s stories with her personal decision to leave the Jedi Order and finding out the true identity of Darth Vader. The final battle with Ahsoka and Vader may have left fans wondering what happened but she stood and fought to give our heroes a chance to continue. As far as Kanan and Ezra are concerned Ahsoka sacrificed herself for the rebellion and to end the Sith threat. This was a very powerful moment for an animated show. It is this plot that continued with the start of season three. Now we have Darth Maul back and he is seeking answers but he is in need of the help of Ezra and the Jedi Holocron.
In the episode arc, “Twilight of the Apprentice”, our heroes go to Malachor as instructed by Yoda in Ezra’s vision back in “Shroud of Darkness”. When arriving on Malachor they discover a Sith temple and also some old foes. It’s the mystery that surrounded Malachor that piqued my interest as a fan of the Old Republic and I did like that they brought in some of the old history with a sense of mystery to the planet. Darth Maul shows up to guide Ezra to the Sith Holocron but both Ahsoka and Kanan show their distrust of Maul. Despite their misgivings, Ezra talks them into following Maul, which leads to conflict. Ezra was being used and after activating the Sith weapon he realizes his mistake. By then Kanan had already been blinded by Maul. Maul was last seen flying off of cliff and Vader was poised to defeat both now vulnerable Jedi. In the end, Ahsoka comes to the rescue both allowing them to escape.
The end to this arc started a new chapter for all our heroes. They returned to their base broken, defeated, and now dealing with personal tragedies. Ezra looks to have tapped into the dark side with the opening of the holocron. However, sacrifice and defeat can lead to hope and that was the feeling I got from this episode.
Star Wars: Rebels Season 3
Season three opens up with Kanan dealing with his blindness and a darker Ezra. During Ezra’s mission, Kanan meets a mysterious force sensitive called The Bendu who helps him “see” again using the force and find his purpose again. His purpose is to train Ezra. In another part of the galaxy, Ezra leads his team to recover some old Y-Wings. Prior to the mission Ezra has been seeking knowledge from the Sith holocron and has developed a more forceful and demanding attitude. Under his new command and quick judgment, he almost got himself and his team killed. After being rescued by Kanan and Hera he comes back to the base distraught and feeling guilty. However, without the holocron and a new sense of purpose by Kanan to train Ezra, Ezra is forgiven and his guilt leads him back to the light side and everything is ok.
All is well until Maul comes for both the Sith and Jedi holocrons to unlock the secrets he is looking for. His plan with the aid of Ezra only briefly works then both holocrons were destroyed. Maul escapes with only some knowledge and Ezra now tries to make sense of the few pieces he saw, a desert planet with twin suns. As Maul leaves he acknowledges some on is alive. We know this means Obi-Wan Kenobi. Unfortunately, this is all but forgotten until Visions and Voices when Maul comes back to take Ezra to Dathomir. Here they perform a Nightsister ritual to recover the vision from the second episode. I really liked this episode as it finally, after a season, brings back the seeking of knowledge to destroy the Sith plot. It also shows that Ezra hasn’t fully recovered from his previous encounter. There is still darkness in him that is revealed in his vision of Maul. Ezra almost killed a rebel fighter in his anger toward Maul, though he saw him as Maul. Throughout the season Ezra looked as though he was struggling with his emotions but it was so subtle that I almost thought it was a one-time thing.
Though the show’s creators have been good about closing plots they have left some unanswered questions. One is what happened to the Inquisitors? Season two we saw the end to three more, but it was said there were more. In season three the way the episodes went it was almost like the writers also forgot about them even with a small mention by Ezra. I got the feeling that Grand Admiral Thrawn replaced the Inquisitors.
Plots and story lines are examples of the best of Rebels but the seasons are populated by episodes that were not memorable. They were almost thrown in for some character development or added to give a character more screen time. We also have the cameo appearance episodes, just because we need to remind ourselves of the characters in the movies. Now some of these episodes were great and were done to move the story about the rebellion forward, bring in new and important characters, and for character development. It’s the fluff pieces that were just forgettable. Was there a purpose in having a final Clone Wars battle to end the conflict between the droid army and the republic, other than another Captain Rex piece?
The ones that I remember are the ones about Ezra’s parents being freedom fighters, finding defectors by infiltrating an Imperial academy, turning the enemy to your cause, and the ones about the people and places directly affected by the struggle against the Empire. This also includes Hera’s episodes where she struggles with her father’s fight and the fight for her family’s heritage and honor. Another good episode was ‘Blood Sisters’, a Sabine story. Sabine Wren doesn’t get many episodes or story arcs but this one was good as a character history and making allies.
We knew Sabine is a Mandalorian and she was in an Imperial Academy but when she meets an old friend turned rival we find out that Sabine was also a Bounty Hunter. In Star Wars there is no shortage of Mandalorians turned Bounty Hunters but here we have a Mandalorian turned Imperial turned Bounty Hunter and then turned rebel. The two fight over a droid with precious intel and then team up to escape the empire. After that, Sabine’s friend becomes a potential ally. I do like that Rebels has those feel good endings like when Zeb rescues two Lasat. He thought that the empire wiped out all the Lasat but these two show up thanks to Hondo’s intervention. At the end, they find a way to the fabled Lira San and an entire world of Lasat.
Character Development and Flaws
To be a good series there has to be character development. We don’t want to see the same character doing the same thing season after season. It’s good then that there is plenty of character development in this show. However, it is not to say that there is no room for improvement because there is especially for the main characters. I fell the worst offender is Ezra. As the story centers on Ezra we should have more development with his character. To be fair he has changed but some aesthetic changes and a few additions of emotional dark Ezra is not enough.
If we look at his past, his attitude makes sense, he was orphaned and had to fend for himself from an early age. However, by season three he is still naïve and has that wanting to take charge of everything attitude. Once he joined the Ghost family he became a part of something bigger, which threw him in a situation where he is now considering everyone’s life through his actions. At times he really tries to do what’s right and genuinely cares for his friends and allies but makes many mistakes throughout the series. I felt that after three seasons he should have matured more than he has and relies heavily on the guidance from Kanan. Ezra as we also have seen is still trusting of people when there is a specific goal and quick to emotional responses. Somewhat reminiscent of Anakin and even Luke from episode IV, though maybe with more guidance and training by Kanan he will come around.
As for character development, Kanan has been an example of how a character can develop. When we first met Kanan he didn’t even want to be seen as a Jedi. By season two he had traded in his blaster for a lightsaber and was fully committed to training Ezra while being a leader in the rebellion. He is also leery about trusting people or intel before all the facts are known. The meeting with Captain Rex was a moment in trusting a clone trooper with his life after order 66. However, after fighting alongside Rex he realized his value and loyalty and adapted to the situation. Still not fully trusting him Kanan will go on missions as long as he is in charge. I personally liked Kanan as a character. He also has an interesting backstory but what I am watching is his struggle with not only his blindness but also Ezra’s path and training. Ezra can fall to the dark side and the only one that can stop him is Kanan.
I felt Sabine is also lacking in character development. She has her stories but essentially she is the same character as in season one. This is also what is happening with Zeb. They have strong roles in the overall story but both are just not being developed. Hera is up there with Kanan as far as development goes. She is much the leader but with her expanded role has become emotionally stronger and will not tolerate failure. She grew even more after her encounter with Thrawn and losing her home when the Empire took over Ryloth and went after her father’s group. Hera has lost much and seen tragedy while sacrificing for her cause, her friends, and family. No matter what happens Hera still is caring and will protect those she cares about and any innocent in the galaxy being threatened by the Empire.
Beyond the characters that have been around since the first season, Rebels has some good recurring characters and ones that are just getting established in season three. My personal favorite and a character that now has an important role in the fight against the rebellion is Grand Admiral Thrawn. He is a Chiss and one of the few non-human Imperial Officers and the highest-ranking non-humans in the Empire. His military genius and tactical abilities led him to successfully win battles and quickly move up through the ranks. One of his tactics is to understand his enemy by studying their culture, traditions, and art. Not only is he a master strategist he is also one of the most disciplined and level-headed Imperials. He is not quick to anger, except on that on occasion on Ryloth, and carefully weighs the options. There is a larger plan in the works and he will not attack until the time is right. This worries the rebels, as they can’t figure out his plans.
Moving on from the Grand Admiral, two of the other characters that have a purpose in the series and were written well are Captain Rex and Hondo. Love him or hate him Hondo is one interesting character. Whenever he shows up something is going to go wrong and the rebels must again save the day. I don’t consider Hondo an ally or really a friend, though he does like Ezra, but ends up helping the rebels with his schemes and propositions. He also saved two Lasat and got the rebellion needed weapons and ships. The next is Captain Rex. A hero of the clone wars he comes back to aid the rebellion. His experience and leadership plus loyalty as a soldier are nothing but valuable and his episodes are some of the best. Especially those with Kanan as there is that mistrust between them. Sometimes it’s the non-force users that are the best characters. They must rely on skill, strategy, wit, instinct, and sometimes just plain luck to get by in life. As characters, they become more unpredictable and developed better than the force users.
Now not all the characters featured in episodes or throughout a season are good. Take for instance Wedge Antilles, his introduction was weak and should have been written better. He is a hero of the Rebel Alliance and had a pivotal role in the destruction of the two Death Stars. His coming from the Imperial Academy and joining the rebels at an earlier age than I thought was interesting. However, he had to be extracted from the Imperial Academy by Sabine. Afterward, Wedge ended up imprisoned only to be again rescued by Sabine. It’s Wedge Antilles, he should have gotten himself out, found the rebels, and showed he is the best pilot ever to have served in the Rebellion and the New Republic. In other words, the leader of Rogue Squadron should have had a better introduction.
The most interesting and some of most beloved characters in the Star Wars Universe are the Mandalorians. A culture of warrior clans who nearly destroyed the Republic in the Mandalorian Wars lead by Mandalore the Ultimate and his Neo-Crusaders are reduced to fighting for the Empire or have been conquered by the Empire. Mandalorians do not become conquered they would rather die in battle with honor then see their clans subjugated under an outside ruler. In the Clone Wars, they became pacifists, except for the DeathWatch, and some worked for the republic as trainers for the clones, but it changed the idea of a Mandalorian. The writers weakened a once proud people.
Moving on to other aspects of Rebels, in season one the main planet and setting was Lothal and still it is a center of rebel activity. However, it’s not the only planet in the galaxy and seeing other settings outside Lothal, space, and Imperial ships was a good addition. The good thing is they are not all iconic settings but new worlds and places either with little mention before in Star Wars lore or made for the series.
A best and worst part of Rebels is the vehicles. Most are fantastically modeled, such as the detail in the Star Destroyers and the rebel ships looking like the ones in the movies. However, the worst by far is the design of the AT-ST walkers. They look like baby birds instead of the walkers in Return of the Jedi. The AT-ATs are much better looking and intimidating. If you want Imperial might it is necessary to have intimidating weapons, vehicles, and ships.
Lastly, I have to add that visions are a best of Rebels. We get the visions of Yoda directing Ezra to Malachor and Kanan finds answers to his problems through visions. However, the best example is episode ten in season three when a vision of Maul leads Ezra, Maul, Sabine, and Kanan to Dathomir. During a ritual, the spirits of two Nightsisters take over the bodies of Kanan and Sabine attacking both Maul and Ezra. They eventually are defeated but they did put fear into our heroes and viewers. I do hope they revisit Dathomir to explain how it was destroyed.
There is more that can be said about what are the best and worst parts of Star Wars Rebels then what I discussed. We can go in depth on how the writers need to stop bringing back Darth Maul and replace him with a new Sith or ancient Sith from Malachor. This is a very well written and designed show that has only so many more stories left before we cross over to A New Hope. I look forward to watching more and learning if our heroes find the answer to destroying the Sith, what is Thrawn’s plan, and is Agent Kallus really aiding the rebels.
You can read our reviews of Star Wars: Rebels season three here.